Sustainability in Pacific Island Communities and Ecosystems






Pursue a more sustainable relationship with our oceans…

Explore the pacific islands in this place-based and comparative environmental studies semester. Visit several South Pacific islands to confront challenging questions of colonial conflict, cultural identity, and environmental justice, and to examine relationships between political structures, culture, and the natural environment.

FALL 2022: October 3,  2022 – December 23, 2022
FALL 2023: August 21, 2023 – November 15, 2023

Fall 2022 Voyage:

Cruise Track: Tahiti to Tahiti

Planned Port Stops (subject to covid conditions):  Pape’ete, Mo’orea, Tetiaroa, Makatea, Rangiroa, Nuka Hiva, Ua Huka, Raroia.

October 3 – November 5, 2022: Shore component in Woods Hole

November 9 – November 19, 2022: Shore component in Tahiti

November 20, 2022 – December 23, 2022: At sea


FALL 2023
Suva, Fiji to Auckland, NZ

Program Highlights

  • Field research methodologies including on-site observations and data collection
  • Oral storytelling and communication skills
  • Synthesis of scientific and humanities-based approaches to sustainability issues
  • Local food as a lens through which to examine sustainability, colonialism, and climate change
  • View full program description

Academic Credit

Sustainability in Pacific Island Communities and Ecosystems (SPICE) carries 18 semester hour credits from Boston University for successful completion of the program.   View course descriptions & syllabi

Who Should Apply?

This study abroad program is particularly appropriate for Environmental Studies/Science majors but students from any major are encouraged to apply.

SEA Admissions and Financial Aid staff members offer individual advising and assistance to help students complete the application process. We encourage you to contact one of us to learn if SEA is right for you.

SSV Robert C. Seamans

“I couldn’t be more proud of my shipmates, and how far we have all come from the first day on the ship. We have grown as a unit to be a successful, powerful team that can conquer any challenge.

Jaeger Hodge, University of Southern California

Program Description

Skills Gained

  • Participate in collaborative engagement with a variety of environmental stakeholders
  • Conduct marine science and humanities research on campus and in the field
  • Share experiences through digital storytelling and science communication
  • Synthesis of scientific- and humanities-based approaches to sustainability issues​

The coral reefs, fisheries, and forests of the Pacific Islands are areas of extraordinary biological diversity. For the communities of people living on these islands, these are spaces for securing livelihoods and affirming identities as people of the place. From the earliest days of island settlement through the ecological and cultural violence and erasure brought by western colonialism to contemporary impositions of capitalism and transnational “projects,” the people of these island communities have confronted and often overcome challenges of sustainable adaptation.

The SPICE program and its courses seek to

  • Identify sustainability issues in these island communities through marine scientific and humanities research
  • Trace the connections between past and current ecological states and community responses (including material culture, practices, and local histories and experiences)
  • Teach students the value of respectful collaboration in these communities

Developed by SEA faculty in conjunction with local partners, this semester is uniquely situated to immerse students in collaborative relationships with communities and agencies in the region working for environmental sustainability. The program will begin with a shore component in Woods Hole where students will be introduced to the history, culture, and geography of remote Pacific Islands. Visiting scholars will share their work on environmental science, Pacific Island voyaging and navigation, and traditional art, food, and cultural practices.

Students will then begin their sailing research voyage, visiting several South Pacific islands to confront challenging questions surrounding cultural identity, colonial conflict and exchange, and the complex connections between human communities, political structures, and the environment. They will explore issues of sustainability with local officials and residents while visiting historical, cultural, agricultural, and environmental management sites, and investigate the complex factors that threaten fragile island ecosystems and the surrounding marine environment in an effort to pursue a more sustainable relationship with our oceans.

Program faculty place significant value not only on students’ informative interactions with sustainability projects and practices, but on their ability to function as effective communicators in public settings as well. An integral part of the program’s curriculum involves developing the required skills for persuasively communicating ideas and facts about sustainability to audiences of every size. Storytelling skill development takes place within the context of examining the role of oral narrative tradition in Pacific Island cultures, coupled with explorations of the key factors in effective scientific communication in the age of podcasting and other digital audio media.

Students can look forward to traditionally prepared culinary experiences as well as learning to source and prepare local ingredients in the ship’s galley as a framework for the themes of the course.

Course Descriptions & Syllabi

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor. 
Field-intensive analysis and documentation of dynamic relationships between nature and culture in specific coastal, island, and ocean places. Apply cultural landscape and related interdisciplinary bio-cultural approaches to place-based environmental studies.


Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor.
Employ methods and sources of historians and social scientists. Examine the role of human societies in coastal and open ocean environmental change. Issues include resource conservation, overfishing, pollution, invasive species, and climate change.


Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester.
Learn the fundamentals of sailing ship operation, in preparation for direct application at sea. Navigation (piloting, celestial and electronic), weather, engineering systems, safety, and sail theory. Participate as an active member of the ship’s crew on an offshore voyage.


Ocean ecosystem change in the anthropocene: warming, acidification, fisheries depletion, and pollution. Review principles of circulation, seawater chemistry, nutrient dynamics, and biological production to understand causes and consequences of change. Conduct field measurements for contribution to time-series datasets.

Directed Research Topics (300-level, 4 credits.)

Prereq: Admission to SEA Semester. Sophomore standing or consent of instructor.
Seminar exploring humanities and social sciences approaches to understanding and resolving contemporary climate-related issues. Development of research and writing skills through analyses of case studies and guided seminar exercises. Requires field data collection, research paper and presentation of results.

Life on Shore

At the beginning of every SEA program, up to 25 students from various institutions across the U.S. — and often the world — come together on SEA’s residential campus in Falmouth, Massachusetts, on scenic Cape Cod, just down the road from the village of Woods Hole, a world-renowned hub of oceanographic research and discovery.

During this initial shore component, you’ll undertake coursework with SEA faculty that will prepare you personally, academically, and practically for the second part of your experience at sea. You’ll develop an original research project, explore the connections between humans and the ocean, and learn the principles necessary to crew a tall ship. You’ll also have access to some of the world’s foremost scientists and policymakers addressing the leading environmental questions of today.

Living in fully furnished private cottages on our campus, you’ll share all of the responsibilities of community living including grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning. From day one, your class will begin building skills in teamwork, communication, and collaboration, all of which will prepare you for the demands of living and working together at sea. Everyone will play a role in meal planning, provisioning (each house gets a pre-paid grocery card on a weekly basis), and meal prep, which is a great opportunity to hone your organizational and budgeting skills – not to mention putting your culinary skills to the test!

Morning and afternoon classes take place a short walk away from the cottages in the main academic building, the Madden Center. This facility also hosts the library, computer lab, science lab, faculty offices, and is home to the SEA administrative offices. A midday break allows time for lunch, a pickup game of frisbee, soccer, or volleyball, or a run along the local beach. Then it’s back to the classroom. The course schedule is intensive, with academic activities scheduled from roughly 9am to 4pm, Monday through Friday. Evenings and weekends are usually free, though sometimes community activities are organized by your faculty or the Head Resident on campus.

The shore component is one of the hallmarks of SEA programs. It prepares you to be effective in your roles as researcher, crewmember, and shipmate at sea, and equips you with the tools to embark upon a successful ocean voyage.

C-300 Class at Woods Hole
Volleyball on campus

Life at Sea

While the shore component is one of the hallmarks of SEA programs – providing important preparation for a successful ocean voyage – not surprisingly, students look forward to the day they ship out.

As your time in Woods Hole comes to an end, you’ll feel a mix of excitement and perhaps some trepidation as well. You and your shipmates may ask, “Can we really do this?” Because of the intentional design of all SEA programs, you can be confident that the answer is, “Yes!”

The sea component of SEA programs immediately immerses you in applying practically what you have just learned in the classroom on shore. As you set sail, you take on three roles: student, crewmember, and researcher. Life at sea is full as you take ocean measurements and samples; participate in classes; stand a watch as part of an around-the-clock schedule, on deck and in lab; and assist with navigation, engineering, meal preparation, and cleaning. Depending on the voyage, you may also make port calls – an opportunity to break from the rhythm of life at sea and to visit a foreign destination, not as a tourist, but as a working sailor and researcher.

Privacy and sleep are both limited aboard ship, yet there is always time for personal reflection. Teamwork takes precedence as you assume increasing levels of responsibility for the well-being of your shipmates and the ship itself. “Ship, shipmate, self” will be your new mantra, representing a shift in priorities for all on board. A phased leadership approach over the course of your time at sea will allow you to gradually assume the majority of shipboard responsibilities under the watchful eye of the professional crew. Near the end of every program, each student will lead a complete watch cycle as part of a rewarding final capstone experience.

When you step off one of our ships, you’ll take away academic credits, self-confidence, lifelong friends, a toolbox of skills and knowledge, and a sense of direction that will serve you far beyond your voyage.

Life at sea is concentrated: every moment holds more substance, texture, and complexity than I am ever aware of on land. Tapping in to the rhythms of a ship, you slip like a cog into a well-oiled machine: each part has purpose, and together things run smoothly. This environment is one where actions have meaning, repercussions are real, and each moment teaches the meaning and value of hard work done well. At sea I learn that I am capable of much more than I give myself credit for.SARAH WHITCHER, Clark University, Biology Major


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